Oppa, Unnie, Sunbaenim, Sunsaengnim, etc. These titles play a big role in Korean society. Today we discuss how these roles play out in the Roommate household and how important they are. In this episode, our roommate Lee Dong Wook invites legendary actor Lee Deok Hwa (Hotel King) to give very valuable advice to the members, giving us further perspective into the hierarchy system as he has Park Bom call him Oppa.

Lore: Age is a big deal in Korean society - it dictates how a person acts, how they address each other, and who they ultimately show respect to. Having watched a lot of dramas and variety shows from Korea I have come to take this fact for granted; something I was hyper aware of when I started consuming Korean media but has since become an afterthought, something I don’t really think about anymore.

This past episode or Roommates had quite a few moments which brought the question of age and the related social hierarchy front and center (in other words, it had me thinking about it again). Lee Deok Hwa, a well-respected actor, came to visit the house. Bom was confused what to call him (teacher? Her senior?). Lee Deok Hwa took the head seat at the table. Sung Woo commented on how nice it was to have someone older around. At the end of the night all of the men sat down to have a drink and receive some words of wisdom from Lee Deok Hwa. It was clear Lee Deok Hwa’s age (and the wisdom that comes with it) plus the length of his career were what garnered so much respect.

I really like how all of the roommates pitch in to keep the house clean, regardless of age and rank. Shin Umma cooks, Soo Hyun is the treasurer. Everyone cleans (albeit usually after a game or contest) and the roomies take turns cooking (when Shin Umma is not).

I think in general the roommates look after each other equally regardless of age or the length of their respective careers. While I would not say that their actions break the age hierarchy I have become familiar with (well, Nana was speaking banmal to her elders but I will let you decide how groundbreaking that was) their actions do make them out to be more of a family unit and less a highly structured social group. The housemates seem to actually care for and respect one another (and not go about the motions because they feel they have to). And Bom called Deok Hwa Oppa. Sorry, just had to get that in there somewhere because I just about died laughing.

Qisti: I’m the oldest out of four girls. Sometimes it’s awesome being the oldest child, mainly because I always got the newest things. Most of the time it’s difficult because we’re essentially the guinea pig of the family. Well, I guess in my case that’s what it felt like. I would have loved to have an older relative give me advice and help me through life. So the part I loved most from this episode was when Lee Deok Hwa sat around the table and gave meaningful advice to all the roommates. It’s not like he was forced to say any of it, he wanted to. With age comes lots of experience.


The one thing that I really like about Korean culture (and something that I really need to practice more often) is respect for their elders. The roommates do a really good job of keeping that hierarchical balance or respect. Sometimes a hierarchy is only a one-way street, but what I’ve noticed in the show is that with them it’s a two-way street. The younger ones are always showing respect to the older roommate and vice-versa. While Shin Umma might be watching the kids washing the blankets or cooking, he’s always there lend a helping hand when needed. Same with Lee So Ra, she never hesitates when one of the girls needs someone to talk to or when they just need a hug.


It’s great to see that everyone works together in the house. Not only does it create a harmonious household but it also builds strong relationships. Relationships where they can depend on one another if they’re in trouble or just need someone to be there. Also, to tell them if they’re doing something wrong and how to fix it. Whether it’s perfecting manners or trying to get the covers off the blanket before you wash it, haha!


Rosie: More than in other reality shows, I think Roommate really helps to showcase this kind of hierarchical culture, especially the two-connection Qisti mentioned above. It’s probably even better than in some dramas, where status issues are exaggerated just for show. Through Roommate we get a glimpse of the day to day, hour by hour, procedures in how they deal with each other. Age in Korean culture isn’t just a random mark of respect; it actually dictates the dynamics within any group of people, and this what I think makes Roommate a rather interesting show because they are forced, or rather encouraged, to break down some of those boundaries in the name of ‘family’ bonding.

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Yet they still observe some of those same general rules. And sure it’s hilarious when Bom calls Deok Hwa ‘oppa’ and when certain members tease the others, but it’s not always fun and games. Nana in particular has attracted some anti-fans over the course of the drama for playing too lightly with the respect due to elders and seniors in the entertainment business. Just a few episodes ago, Min Woo felt upset when his younger roommate Kang Joon didn’t properly introduce his friends to him, as he felt should have done first. It’s tricky, all too tricky, even for some people who otherwise seem close as brothers.

Of course, we hope that the roommates will move through such issues and really grow together, but as close as their relationships become, there will still always be that strange dynamic that’s otherwise so alien to most of our international cultures.

Read more about Roommate:

Episodes 1-5:[Part 1] [Part 2]

Episode 6: [Part 1] [Part 2]

Episode 7: [Part 1] [Part 2]

Episode 8: [Part 1] [Part 2]

Episode 9: [Part 1] [Part 2]

Episode 10: [Part 1] [Part 2]

Wonder who your Drama Club members are?

Rosie: Shine a Light Rose

Qisti: QT K-Pop | @_QistiQ

Lore: Lore in Stone Cities